With so many different types of CPAP masks available for those diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), it can be overwhelming trying to decide which one is best for you – especially if this is your first time buying a CPAP mask.
Finding a mask that fits your needs, favored sleeping position, and lifestyle is essential for maintaining CPAP therapy compliance. A 2016 study published in The Clinical Respiratory Journal found that people who used a mask that fit better experienced fewer leaks and discomfort and were also able to tolerate higher therapy pressures.
In line with these findings, we’ve created this guide to help you overcome any confusion you may have about the different CPAP mask types to help you find the best type for your lifestyle and therapy needs. Once you and your doctor have decided on which mask type is best, be sure to read our latest guide on the best CPAP masks where we compare the top brands based on the type of mask, comfort, lifestyle, and more!
First, we’ll establish a few basics and then get right into breaking down the different types of CPAP masks as well as some common problems you may encounter during therapy and what to do about them.
What Is a CPAP Mask?
A CPAP mask is how pressurized air is delivered to the airway of a person undergoing CPAP therapy. The mask connects to the CPAP machine via the hose or tubing and comes in various styles, sizes, and materials.
A traditional CPAP mask encompasses the wearer’s nose with a triangular cushion but there are also masks that rest under the nose, masks that encompass both the nose and mouth, just the mouth, or even those that cover the entire face.
The mask’s job is to create an airtight seal so the air pressure stays the same as it travels down the airway. The mask that’s right for you will do this without being too tight, causing sores on your face, or constantly requiring readjustment.
Anatomy of a Typical Mask
Most CPAP masks have three main components:
- Mask Frame
- Mask Headgear
- Mask Cushion
The mask frame holds the mask cushion and attaches to the mask headgear. The most common masks use regular or magnetic clips, or Velcro tabs, to hold your headgear in place. Some masks have quick-release clips that allow you to quickly remove the headgear without having to readjust it when you put it back on.
Mask cushions are responsible for providing a tight seal to minimize air leaks while also being comfortable to wear. There are a few different types of mask cushions; the most common types are silicone, inflatable (commonly referred to as cloth), gel, and foam. The best cushion for you will be comfortable and maintain a good seal, even while changing sleeping positions.
It’s also important to consider what different types of materials you’ll be comfortable with touching and rubbing against your face at night. We offer many skin irritation solutions such as fabric wraps and cloth mask liners to increase comfort levels if you’re experiencing any skin discomfort.
3 Common Types of CPAP Masks Prescribed
There are seven different types of CPAP masks available. However, there are three commonly prescribed CPAP masks doctors turn to when treating sleep apnea patients with a CPAP machine:
- Full face masks
- Nasal masks
- Nasal pillow masks
Let’s discuss in detail each of these three types of masks:
1. Full Face Mask
Full Face CPAP masks seal around your nose and mouth, with cushions commonly in the shape of a triangle, and are held in place by four-point headgear.
These masks are great for people who breathe through their mouth and don’t want to use a nasal mask with a chinstrap.
The downside of a full face mask is that they are usually heavier and bulkier because they cover both the nose and mouth. CPAP equipment manufacturers ResMed and Philips Respironics have both released full face masks that offer a greatly improved field of vision.
Some of the most common reasons why you would need a full face mask are:
- You have chronic sinus issues or allergies and it is not possible to breathe solely through your nose.
- Your mouth drops open during sleep and using a chinstrap with a nasal type of mask wasn’t working for you.
Many people love full face masks, but the researchers behind this 2014 meta-analysis determined that full face masks can lead to lower levels of compliance compared with nasal or nasal pillow masks. If you try a full face mask and find that it is too bulky or doesn’t work for you, try switching to a nasal or nasal pillow mask.
Related Reading: Discover Best Full Face CPAP Masks
2. Nasal Mask
A nasal CPAP mask sits on the bridge of the nose, usually covering the entire nose or the bottom half of the nose. The nasal mask is commonly held in place by four-point headgear that attaches to the frame. Irritation with a nasal mask can occur on the bridge of the nose where the mask sits.
Nasal masks are incredibly popular due to their more minimalistic nature, but accidental mouth breathing leading to CPAP dry mouth and dry throat can be a problem for some people. This can easily be combated by using a chin strap to hold the mouth shut during sleep, but some people opt for a full face mask instead. This nasal mask is also not recommended for those with constant nasal congestion or severe allergies and may be problematic if you have a deviated septum or similar nasal obstruction.
If you’re interested in nasal CPAP masks, we’ll show you just what to look for as well as what’s popular right now in How to Find the Best Nasal CPAP Mask.
3. Nasal Pillow Mask
Nasal pillow CPAP masks create a seal at the base of the nostril where the cushion sits. This is the least invasive style of CPAP mask and provides a clear field of vision, ideal for reading or watching TV. For men that have facial hair, the nasal pillow mask will be a good option. Nasal pillow mask wearers typically enjoy higher levels of compliance thanks to a comfortable fit and minimalistic design.
However, there are times when a nasal pillow won’t be the best option. For instance, if your prescription calls for a higher pressure setting or you suffer from nasal allergies or a chronic nasal obstruction, this probably won’t be the best type of mask for you.
Sometimes irritation can happen at the opening of the nostril both on the inside of the nose and the outside. If you’re experiencing discomfort of this kind, try using a different-sized nasal pillow or adding some sort of nasal moisturizer to help you adjust.
Related Reading: Discover Best Nasal Pillow CPAP Masks
Here’s a video recap of the different CPAP masks discussed:
More CPAP Mask Types Worth Considering
The vast majority of sleep apnea patients will choose between the three mask types we just covered. However, depending on the severity of your sleep apnea, your doctor may prescribe one of the following masks:
Nasal Prong Mask
Nasal Prong masks seal and deliver air inside the openings of your nose. Nasal Prong masks are similar to nasal pillows, but the prong will rest deeper inside the nostril and inflate slightly against the walls of the nostril to create a seal with pressure. This is different from a nasal pillow mask which creates a seal by resting against the nostril opening.
Nasal Prong CPAP masks are held in place by a headgear that is worn on the top of the head. To prevent dryness and make Sleep Apnea therapy more tolerable, it is highly recommended to use heated humidification.
Nasal masks, nasal pillow masks, and nasal prong masks only deliver air to the nose. A common problem with these masks is that the mouth falls open during the night, which can affect the quality of your therapy. If you find that you’re constantly waking up with a dry mouth with a nasal-style mask, a chinstrap may be beneficial; we’ll touch on this a bit later.
Hybrid full face masks provide the functionality of a full face mask with much less bulk. This CPAP mask design combines the seal of a nasal pillow mask, providing airflow to the nasal passages, with the full coverage of an oral mask. The clear field of vision is why many people choose this mask style, and why hybrid masks are growing in popularity.
There is no forehead support required, giving the wearer a clear field of vision. If your nose isn’t familiar with nasal pillows then you may experience some irritation at the opening of the nasal passages until the adjustment period wears off.
The hybrid mask is a great way to get the seal and comfort of a nasal pillow mask while also ensuring you don’t need a chin strap if your mouth falls open while you sleep.
Oral CPAP masks use an oval-shaped cushion to seal around the mouth and deliver air through two inlets inside the mask. An inside flap rests between your teeth and lips while a second flap curls over your lips to keep the mask stable.
This design is great for users who experience frequent nasal congestion but those without congestion find that the air that is blown in their mouth sometimes escapes through the nose and dries up their airway.
An oral mask with a mouthpiece design offers unparalleled stability and security compared to any other mask, but wearers may find it to be more intrusive on their sleeping experience, too.
Total Face CPAP Mask
Total Face CPAP masks seal in a large oval around the entire face to encompass the nose, mouth, and eyes and are held in place by four-point headgear. Some people leak CPAP air through the corners of their eyes when they receive Sleep Apnea treatment. If this happens then other types of masks will not function properly and a total face mask should be considered.
Other special circumstances could be if a patient has a facial condition that prevents the use of a nasal or full face mask. Like a full face mask, a total face mask equalizes the pressure so the air treatment is even, but this mask encompasses the entire face and will cover any area where air might escape, such as the eyes.
Common CPAP Mask Problems and How To Solve Them
Red Marks: If you’re getting red marks on your face, it’s probably because the mask is too tight. Try loosening the straps and see if you still have a good seal. If not, consider looking for a new mask or perhaps one in a different style.
Mask Leaks: Mask leaks are a common annoyance among CPAP users. If the mask doesn’t seal, how can it do its job? For some, this can be rectified by using a product like mask liners which provide cloth padding between the mask and the face. This can improve comfort, but overall creates a better seal than if you don’t use one. A mask liner can also help silicone masks to last longer, as human perspiration and facial oils tend to break down the silicone over time.
Dried Out Nose and Mouth: If you find your nose or mouth is dried out from your therapy, there’s an easy way to fix it. A CPAP humidifier can add moisture back into your therapy air, reducing the amount of dryness that you experience. It’s a great way to directly increase comfort levels to indirectly increase compliance. If you routinely struggle with CPAP dry mouth, be sure to check out Solutions and Alternatives for CPAP Mouth Breathing.
For a full list of solutions to common problems you might experience with your CPAP mask, read Easy Remedies for the 19 Most Common CPAP Problems.
Replacement Schedule for Masks Parts
It’s good to keep a regular replacement schedule for the different parts of your CPAP mask. You can increase the longevity of your equipment by cleaning your frame and cushion daily with mask wipes or weekly with soap and water, but the standard replacement intervals are:
- Masks – Every 6 to 12 Months
- Mask Cushion – Every 3 to 6 Months
- Mask Headgear – Every 6 to 9 Months
Daniela has researched and published over 60 articles covering topics that aim to inform and empower people living with Sleep Apnea. As an avid reader and researcher, Daniela continues to grow her knowledge about Sleep Apnea and CPAP therapy everyday with the help of coworkers, CPAP.com customers, and members of other CPAP communities online.